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New York Lawmakers Concerned About Safety On Roads If Recreational Marijuana Is Legalized

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Legalized recreational marijuana could be in New York's future, as lawmakers head to Albany on Wednesday to begin a new session with Democrats in control of both legislative houses.

But how will that affect safety on our roads?

That's what state lawmakers want to know, CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported Monday.

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Long Island's third medical marijuana dispensary is now open, but soon it could be recreational marijuana sold in the open. It appears inevitable as lawmakers have been consulting with representatives of 10 states that have been down this road.

"As wise people say, you learn from the mistakes of others," state Sen. John Brooks said.

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Marijuana (credit: CBS2)

Like Colorado's 30 percent increase in all road fatalities, Oregon's 6 percent increase, and the more than one-third (39 percent) of Washington state users who admit they drive within three hours of pot use. Oregon Assistant Attorney General Deena Ryerson briefed New York lawmakers on the sobering statistics.

"I hate to say this, but it is not uncommon and if I talk to my counterparts in Washington and Colorado to see people driving along, smoking marijuana, just while they are doing it," Ryerson said. "If an officer sees someone using an e-cigarette or a vape pen, they don't know is there just tobacco in there or is there marijuana?"

It causes problems for enforcement because it has no smell.

Sen. Todd Kaminsky, who called the forum, said New York must first answer critical questions before holding a vote to legalize.

"Right now there is no equivalent of a Breathalyzer, a road-side test, so are we close to developing one? The law enforcement experts who can detect driving under the influence, are there enough?" said Kaminsky, a Democrat representing Rockville Centre.

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AAA says specially-trained drug recognition experts will be needed, as will education.

"There are people who are saying it's okay to drive high, and that is scary from our perspective," said AAA Northeast's Lauren Paterno.

Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder remains firmly opposed.

"Now we are going to legalize marijuana, not knowing how long that stays in your system and not understanding how that impairment will affect your driving," Ryder said.

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Still, legalization enjoys widespread support.

"People are smoking now anyway. They're going to do it anyway with a black market," one New Yorker said.

"I imagine in the beginning it's going to be the wild west," another person added.

The message from states where it's already legal is that detecting who is driving while impaired is complicated. It's going to take training and education, time and money.

A vote to legalize marijuana would likely happen in April, around budget time.

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